Those of you who know how to read a calendar will notice that I’m a couple of days early for my Father’s Day message this year.  You see, only twenty-four days after last year’s Father’s Day, my dad released his grasp on mortality and found his way home.  I am sure he is comfortable there and waiting with some patience that was not his way in this life for us all to join him one day.

It is impossible to approach this first Father’s Day without him and not feel the sadness, the longing, and the absence that comes with such a loss.  This is the time when I should be sending his card.  This is the time when I should be gathering anecdotes to share with him in our Sunday phone call.  Instead, I am sitting here and trying to write his Father’s Day message before the Sunday celebration begins.  I don’t want my remembering to be lost in the happy chaos that Sunday will bring; so I’m purposefully making some time today to reflect, to remember, and to love what it was to have had Al Stead as my dad.

I remember when I was very small that my dad seemed like a giant – or maybe he was a bear, because I can remember lying awake one night and hearing his snoring from the bedroom on the other side of the wall and wondering if there was a bear in the house.  I remember that he would tap dance into the kitchen in the mornings, dressed in suit and tie, and take my mom for a twirl before she served up his scrambled eggs — the “snotty” kind that nobody wanted to mooch from him, because we liked ours well-done.  I remember his strong, smooth baritone voice singing out at our corny family sing-alongs around the piano after dinner.  “If I Ruled the World,” and “On A Clear Day,” were two of his standards, along with anything by late-Sinatra.  He did a mean version of “New York, New York,” and often would remind us that everything was up to date in Kansas City.  I remember how he came to my swimming practices and meets and took such pride in my accomplishments, even though I was not the best on the team.  I remember how proud he was of all his kids, and later his grandchildren, just knowing that his family was the best in the world.

I remember how he loved mom, with all his heart, and how he happily let her take care of him for more than sixty years; and I remember how abruptly and completely he reversed the roles and met her every need when dementia compromised her life.  I remember how he held on, hoping to outlive her, and ultimately went the way of many good caregivers.

For me, personally, my best memories are of the daily phone calls – always at dinnertime (thanks, Dad!), and usually repetitive, because his life didn’t change much from one day to the next.  We talked about being children, about growing up, about being parents and spouses, about being grandparents.  And we talked about what lay ahead – sometimes not clear as to who was reassuring whom.  All I know is that in those phone calls, during the last ten years of Dad’s life, we got to know each other better than we ever had before.  Exploring beneath the surface of my ’50s Dad gave me a whole new respect for the man he truly was; and although I will admit that there were days when I rolled my eyes at the sound of the phone ringing, I would not trade those calls for anything.

The phone has been silent for almost a year now.  I can almost – but not quite -imagine the sound of his voice asking me, “What’s up with you today?”  Sometimes, when I go outside to grill some burgers for dinner, I still find myself patting my pocket to be sure I have my phone, just in case it rings in the middle of dinner prep.  And sometimes, on a day like today, when the rains have passed and the sun comes bursting from behind the very last thunderhead, I can almost – but not quite – hear him singing, “on that clear day…you can see forever, and ever more.”  And I know he can.

So when Father’s Day rolls around this Sunday, I will celebrate my sweetheart and his sons – all fathers – and know that Dad is right there with us and feeling mighty proud.  I’ll miss you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.